night mild and damp, smoking one cigarette after the next. At last I leaned myself against him and tried to press my lips against his, and to be honest it didn’t humiliate me any less that he was very gentle when he put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me away.
Nicole lives with me now. She is not herself, but she is not not herself either. She is herself but more forgetful, herself but meaner. She laughs less than she used to but when she does it’s loud and startling and violent. At Sam Postelthwaite’s funeral—he died in his sleep, at home, and my father, who found him, said it was peaceful, but that’s what he would have said regardless—she sat in the back and her shoulders shook with strange, dramatic grief. She hates to wash her hair and it hangs lank and tangled around her shoulders. There’s something different about her face, not the features themselves but how they sit in repose, never quite settling, which doesn’t mean that she isn’t still beautiful. She is still beautiful. She has a job, answering the phones at a real estate office, which is good because she tires easily, and needs to sit down. She doesn’t miss teaching kindergarten, she says. “I always hated kids,” she says, and it’s hard to know if she’s just being honest or whether it’s the brain injury talking. I always like to say it’s the brain injury talking, as if the injury is a force separate from my sister, an outside agent whose involvement one day can be curtailed. This is a small town; people take care of her. If they see her lost in the grocery store they help her find her way home. The local news came to do a story on her recovery and she spat at them and sent them away. Our father shook the reporter’s hand and apologized, and then he and Noriko made Nicole some tea. Nicole will tolerate both of them, but only for a limited time. She will tell them to get out, she’s sick of them, and our father will say mildly, “That’s not very nice,” and my sister snorts with derision. I see in my father’s face, at these times, a pained expression that is achingly familiar from my childhood, and I see how Noriko stands next to him; I see them drive home together. Sometimes Lord comes over; he prays with Nicole and they talk about AA, and he is kind to me too, in a careful way that continues to embarrass me. I have understood that when he visits my role is to step aside. My sister listens to him pray, a frown on her face, and I’m not sure what she thinks about God now, if anything. She’s hard to read. When I told her about our mother, her reaction was stony. Whatever need she had to find her seems to have folded itself away, inside the jumbled crevices of her brain, and I don’t know if it will ever emerge again. I’m glad she lives with me. In the early mornings I wake and drink coffee, read the paper, watch the sky. I stand outside her room and listen for the ragged rise and fall of her breath. Alix Ohlin is the author of four books, most recently the novel Inside and the story collection Signs and Wonders. She lives in Easton, PA, and teaches at Lafayette College. Windmill 71
The Hofstra Journal of Literature and Art